The Gift of the Bird Feeder and its Fluttering Denizens

By Howard Englander

We have two bird feeders in our backyard.  Since the first of the year, we have poured in about forty bags of seed – four hundred pounds of white proso millet, sunflower seeds, and broken grain!  Four hundred pounds digested by sparrows and Northern Cardinals and wrens no bigger than a coin slot gumball.  It’s been a chore of inestimable pleasure; a daily moment, transfixed by the aeronautic impossibility of nature’s most dazzling creations.

White-Breasted Nuthatch and American Goldfinch, both shot by Owen Deutsch

Bird watching creates holy moments, when the never ending anxiety of our chaotic lives is momentarily stilled by a glimmer of the grand design that nature provides, if only we can stop long enough to see it, pausing for a moment, watching quietly as the birds flit about the feeder, settling on the slender bar that leads to the buffet.  Are you smiling? How can you not? That is the gift of the bird feeder and its fluttering denizens.  

Just watch.  Sit quietly. Hold still. Watch. A sparrow brazenly takes the center spot at the seed smorgasbord, quickly dodging the blue jay who reestablishes his lordship over the coveted perch. The hummingbird on my computer’s screen saver cannot compete with this live action panoramic. I am astonished by the synchronicity of blurred motion and kaleidoscopic colors, an ever changing dance I watch transfixed, seeing something more than birds and greenery and the mixed spectrum of sunlight.

Mandarin Ducks shot by Owen Deutsch

This is a mystery. An unseen choreographer. A conscious awareness of what I am seeing… and an unconscious, intuitive awareness of a force that is sensed. The presence of God in life.

All this from watching birds chattering away at the bird feeder?

It is an endowment that comes with Elderhood. As we learn to be rather than continually to do, we open the space for the immanence of wonderment when we least expect it. When you’re an Elder, counting your mortality in fingers on your hands, there is no guarantee of tomorrow’s arrival, which makes you acutely aware of what’s going on around you today.

Grey Catbird and Summer Tanager, both shot by Owen Deutsch

When life is wobbly, nothing is ‘for sure’ anymore.  I might still be here, and I might not. Conversely, when we are absorbed in a life’s moment, we are gripped. Our capacity for awe, our reverence for the miracle of a blooming flower, is nurtured. We see wonder in places we never bothered to look before.

Still active at age 91, Howard Englander’s essays guide readers to the realization that growing old can be a rewarding journey filled with joy and profound new discoveries. He is the author of Embracing Elderhood: The Three Stages of Healthy, Happy, and Meaningful Senior Years. Published in hard copy and digital format, the book is available on,,, and the publisher,